Nov 212014
 

London is sparkling now as the Christmas lights are switched on and the ice rinks are open.

Trafalgar Square

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is the last to light up and the special evening there is on Thursday 4 December at 6pm. The tree comes from Norway every year as a thank you for our help during World War II and is decorated with simple white lights.

There’s a torch-lit procession for the Blessing of the Crib in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 7 December, and from 8 to 23 December you can enjoy carol singing in Trafalgar Square. (Nearer to the London Bridge Hotel, there’s an Annual Carol Concert at The Rose Playhouse on Monday 15 December.)

For indoor musical entertainment, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square has popular free lunchtime concerts.

Also nearby, Grayson Perry will be giving a lecture at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 4 December. Who Are You? looks at portraiture and British identity, drawing on his current display of new work at the Gallery, and the people he met during this project.

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Christmas Movie

If you’re ready for a classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life is on at the Prince Charles Cinema throughout December. Starring a suicidal James Stewart as he struggles to ‘find himself’ it comes with a happy ending.

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

 

Another Christmassy idea, is the special candlelit readings of A Christmas Carol at The Charles Dickens Museum on Sunday 7 and 14 December, and Monday 8 and 15 December at 3.30pm and 6.30pm.

Shopping

For many, this is the season to indulge and the Southbank Centre Winter Festival has a Christmas market, cabaret, family events and much more. And, it would be hard to miss the Giant 7m high illuminated white rabbit sculptures by artist Amanda Parer.

© Rodney Campbell

There’s also the Magical Christmas Tree Maze made up of 300 real blue spruce Christmas trees and the Southbank Centre Express train taking passengers across the riverfront.

The foodies need to be there for the Real Food Christmas Festival on 19-23 December, and they should make a note of the Christmas opening hours at Borough Market.

Over in west London, there are Christmas shopping opportunities at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 2 to 12 December.

 

Christmas Past

The Geffrye Museum has an annual ‘Christmas Past’ exhibition, on from Tuesday 25 November 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015,  where the 400 years of domestic interiors are adorned with traditional Christmas decorations for each era.

A good time to go would be on Thursday 4 December as there’s an open evening for A Georgian Christmas when the Christmas Past displays are lit by candlelight. Expect festive music and children can try a decoration-making workshop.

Christmas Past 1830

 

Walks

If you’d like to get away from the festive preparations for a while there’s an excellent guided walk in Kensington Gardens on Friday 12 December. This seasonal stroll will look at winter feasts, folklore and traditions. Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert introduced many of the traditions we recognise today.

 

Or you could choose A walk around Shakespeare’s London on Saturday 6, 13 and 20 December, at 10.30am. You’ll see the sights of Shakespeare’s London with a knowledgeable Museum of London guide passing many picturesque settings you might recognise from films.

There’s more Shakespeare at the Barbican with Royal Shakespeare Company – Henry IV Parts I and II from 29 November 2014 to 24 January 2015.

And more festive entertainment with Raymond Gubbay’s Christmas Festival including Glorious Handel by Candlelight, on Saturday 27 December, and Last Night of the Christmas Proms on Sunday 28 December.

 

Dinosaurs

From Thursday 4 December, The Natural History Museum will have on display the most complete Stegosaurus fossil ever found and the only Stegosaurus in a public collection outside the USA. This is the first complete dinosaur specimen to go on display at the Natural History Museum in nearly 100 years. The 150 million year old Stegosaurus stenops is the most significant dinosaur the Museum has acquired since the 1980s and will take pride of place inside the Museum’s Exhibition Road entrance.

© NHM, London

© NHM, London

Another good time to visit the Natural History Museum is for the Night Safari on Tuesday 9 December when you can meet three Museum scientists and hear them talk about their work on endangered species.

 

Buckingham Palace

This could make a very nice Christmas present: There are exclusive guided tours of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 12 December 2014 to 1 February 2015. Each tour is limited to just 30 guests who will have an expert guide describe the paintings, furniture, sculptures and porcelains, before offering a glass of champagne served in the Grand Entrance.

 

The King Has Arrived

We may be singing Hallelujah in the Christmas carols but it’s not that king we’re referring to here. It’s Elvis! The largest ever retrospective of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll opens at The O2 on 12 December. The nine month exhibition will showcase over 300 artefacts direct from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland Archives, some of which have never been exhibited outside of Graceland in Memphis.

 

Paddington Bear

Paddington the movie opens on 28 November and there are 50 Paddington Bear statues across London for Paddington Trails. A lovely addition to the love for the bear is A Bear Called Paddington at the Museum of London which is on until 4 January 2015. This free exhibition includes lots from the author’s family archives that have never been displayed before. I’ve been already and loved it.

© Museum of London

© Museum of London

 

Looking Ahead

January is a great time to be in London if you don’t mind it being a bit chilly. We don’t often get snow so come and enjoy the capital without the crowds.

A couple of things I’m looking forward to in the new year are the London International Mime Festival (8-21 January 2015). It’s the longest-established annual theatre season of its kind with innovative visual theatre from around the world performing at many venues including the Barbican, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells and Southbank Centre.

Plus, Churchill’s Scientists opens at the Science Museum on 23 January 2015.

 

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as @AboutLondon and on Facebook as @AboutLondonLaura.

Dec 312013
 
Twelfthnightprocession

As the festive decorations start to come down in London it doesn’t mean the fun is gone as there’s always plenty to do in London.

New Year’s Day Parade

NYDPcheerleader

© NewsPics Ltd

We start the new year with the New Year’s Day Parade on 1 January which sets off from near Green Park station at 11.45am and reaches Parliament Square (Westminster station) around 3pm. There’s a ‘swinging 60s’ theme for 2014 and it’s likely to be bigger and louder than ever with marching bands, cheerleaders, floats and performers entertaining the huge crowds along the 2.2 mile route.

Twelfth Night Festival

© Laura Porter

Nearer to London Bridge Hotel, and much more quirky, there’s an annual celebration on Sunday 5 January 2014, from 2.30pm, for the Twelfth Night to mark the end of Christmas and to welcome in the new year. It’s one of those traditional ancient customs that you might think was now lost but thankfully this is an annual free festival that takes place whatever the weather.

Outside Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside, the Holly Man arrives by boat along the River Thames. There’s a Mummer’s play and cakes given out to find the King Bean and Queen Pea who then lead a procession to the George Inn on Borough High Street for storytelling and more dancing.

Ice Skating

If you’re still feeling energetic, the last day for the Tower of London Ice Rink is Sunday 5 January 2014 and it’s open until 10pm.

Or walk along the South Bank to the London Eye’s Ice Rink, called Eyeskate, as it also has its final day on 5 January and the last skate session is at 9pm.

Upside Down House

© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter

If you do find yourself strolling along the South Bank, towards Waterloo, do have a quick look at 20 Blackfriars Road (just by the south side of Blackfriars Bridge). Artist Alex Chinneck has created a facade of an upside down house, called Miner on the Moon, as an art installation on a disused site. It will remain here as public artwork for up to 3 years.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Opens

Back to Bankside, while the Shakespeare’s Globe doesn’t have performances in January – but it is a good time to visit for the exhibition and tour of the theatre – the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opens on 9 January 2014. This new playhouse provides indoor space for winter performances but the Jacobean ambience won’t be lost as the handmade oak structure will be lit by hundreds of candles during performances. The first production is The Duchess of Amalfi with Gemma Arterton in the lead role.

The Rose Theatre

RoseTheatre

© Laura Porter

Shakespeare’s plays were also performed at another nearby theatre that is not so well known. The Rose Theatre was built in 1587 for Philip Henslowe and was only the fifth purpose-built theater in London. There’s only one performance planned for this month, on the evening of 20 January 2014, when you can see The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats.

The Rose is really still an indoor archaeological site and is open every Saturday so you can find out more.

Bermondsey Street

LondonGlassblowing1

© Laura Porter

Once a street of traditional industries, especially the leather trade, Bermondsey Street is now a conservation area and much of its architectural character has been preserved. The independent shops, cafes and restaurants here make it an enjoyable place for a stroll and I recommend visiting London Glassblowing, at no.62-66, as a perfect way to warm up on a cold winter’s day. Incredibly, the workshop is at the back of the studio so you can watch glass delights being created before checking out the sale from 8 to 25 January 2014.

Just across the road is a bright orange building that houses the Fashion & Textiles Museum (FTM). It was started in 2003 by British designer Zandra Rhodes and is the only museum in the UK solely dedicated to contemporary fashion. The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon ends on 11 January and Artist Textiles – Picasso to Warhol opens on 31 January 2014.

Winter Wanders

Walking is a great way to explore London and Walk London have over 30 free led walks planned for 25 and 26 January 2014.

Behind The Scenes Tour of Tower Bridge

TowerBridge

© Laura Porter

On weekends throughout January, February and March 2014 there are special Tower Bridge Engineering Tours available taking you to areas of the bridge usually out of bounds. Booking ahead is essential as these tours are always popular.

Buckingham Palace State Rooms Tour

The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace Photographer: Derry Moore, © The Royal Collection 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace
Photographer: Derry Moore, © The Royal Collection 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Another unusual opportunity is the chance to visit the Buckingham Palace state rooms as this is the first time they have opened to the public in the winter. The Queen is away at Sandringham so they’ve laid on something very special for visitors as you’ll get a guided tour and a glass of Champagne, plus a souvenir guidebook and a 20% discount in the shop. The tours are on selected dates until 2 February 2014 (including New Year’s Day).

Ice Sculptures

It takes less than 15 minutes to reach Canary Wharf from London Bridge so you might like to visit for the annual London Ice Sculpting Festival which starts on Friday 10 January 2014 and ends on the Sunday (12 January). It’s completely free to watch and you’ll see teams from around the world competing to create wonders from blocks of ice.

NBA Global Games London 2014

On Thursday 16 January, head to The O2 in North Greenwich for a regular season NBA game between the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets. I know nothing about basketball but I’m told this is a big thing so book ahead.

Borough Market

Back nearer to the London Bridge Hotel, Borough Market is always worth visiting and the glass Market Hall that opened in summer 2013 is also the home of the demonstration kitchen every Thursday and Friday at 12-2pm. This is where chefs are invited to showcase products from the market in a cookery demonstration and members of the public get to taste their creations.

Cheapside Hoard

Emerald, diamond and enamel Salamander brooch © Museum of London

Emerald, diamond and enamel Salamander brooch
© Museum of London

The Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of London has tight security as it’s displaying priceless treasure of late 16th and early 17th century jewels and gemstones that were discovered 100 years ago in a cellar on Cheapside, near St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s definitely worth seeing and Sunday 26 January 2014 is ‘Pay What You Can’ day so a good time to try a paid-for exhibition at the museum. There’s also a free contemporary jewellery exhibition on too called Made in London.

Phew! And everyone tells you January is a quiet month in London. Enjoy!

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as @AboutLondon  and on Facebook as AboutLondonLaura.